Stetson Bennett top Heisman Trophy candidate for Georgia, needs strong run game

Georgia’s Stetson Bennett runs against Auburn last fall. Bennett will need more plays like this to be a serious contender for All-SEC or postseason awards. (Hyosub Shin/UGA)

ATHENS —Kirby Smart doubled down on his quarterback room when Arch Manning jilted his championship program, choosing a shaky 5-7 Texas over the Bulldogs in a recent commitment.

RELATED: Kirby talks up Georgia QBs after Manning shocks DawgNation

Smart’s comments illustrate just how much confidence and belief he has in returning starter Stetson Bennett, who will be asked to carry the team more than ever before after 15 UGA players were selected in the NFL draft.

This current Georgia quarterback group, Smart said, is the best he’s ever had top to bottom.

Better than groups with:

• Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm

• Jake Fromm and Justin Fields

• Jake Fromm and Stetson Bennett

• JT Daniels and Stetson Bennett

RELATED: Kirby Smart taking note of quarterback leadership

It says everything about what Smart sees in Bennett, who, like the head coach emerged as an unheralded south Georgia high school player.

Bennett most recently overcame a poor start in the CFP Championship Game to win Offensive MVP honors in the 33-18 win over Alabama.

It also might say a lot about Smart’s confidence in Carson Beck and Brock Vandergriff, former commits to Alabama and Oklahoma, who both had shining moments in the G-Day Game.

For now, it’s the 24-year-old former walk-on Bennett who is cast in the starring role with the best Heisman Trophy odds on the team.

RELATED: 3 CFP title game heroes make preseason All-American team

Curiously enough, transfer Arik Gilbert has the second-best odds among the Bulldogs, even though he has yet to play a game at UGA and sat out last season.

UGA did feature Gilbert in the G-Day Game, throwing to him four times in the end zone resulting in two touchdowns and two pass interference plays, but returning All-American Brock Bowers was out with a shoulder injury.

RELATED: Kirby Smart has healthy plans for star-studded tight ends room

A recent PFF breakdown captured the highs and lows of Bennett, illustrating how vital a strong run game is to his success.

Bennett led Power 5 quarterbacks with 12.8 yards per attempt when Georgia ran play-action (faked a handoff).

But in non-play action, non-high percentage screen plays, Bennett ranked only 60th among the 65 Power 5 schools with 5.2-percent “turnover-worthy” plays.

RELATED: Stetson Bennett elects to return to Georgia, play another year for Kirby Smart

Smart explained as much on G-Day after Bennett was 15-of-35 passing with 2 interceptions, that the culprit was the Bulldogs not running the ball enough to set up pass plays.

The good news for the Bulldogs is that the offensive line figures to rank among the best in the nation and tailbacks Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton have break-out talent.

The last Georgia player to finish in the Top 3 of the Heisman Trophy balloting was Garrison Hearst in 1992.

Herschel Walker was the most recent Bulldog to win the Heisman Trophy in 1982.

Alabama has produced the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Bryce Young in 2021 and DeVonta Smith in 2020.

Per VegasInsider, here are the latest Heisman Trophy odds:

Stetson Bennett +8000

• Michael Penix Jr. +15000

Arik Gilbert +15000

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